Jimmy Borges was always a tough act to follow.
As a musician in his band, keeping up could be a tremendous challenge. I know, my husband used to accompany Borges on piano on many, many occasions.
The man exhibited quick-silver flashes of brilliance, always in the moment, always pushing for fresh, new discourse, always searching for that perfect note.
Of all the musicians he’s played with, only one stood out, standing the test of time and even daring to upstage Borges, quip for quip, note for note: Betty Loo Taylor, a naturally talented, classically trained pianist.
He probably shared the stage with her the longest, on equal terms, the brother/sister version of Sonny to her Cher in the golden variety show of the 1960s — a show that ran way past its expiration date in the 1990s, a show that gave as good as it got, for both visitors and locals in Waikiki, including a slew of very famous faces.
I would stand in the background, picking up bits and pieces of their storied past, the outrageous adventures they shared, the tales they told out of school about this Hollywood starlet, or a brush with the mob, Sinatra in hushed tones… always with an ear toward the next gig.
Taylor died on Wednesday. Pneumonia.
Borges left us last spring. Cancer. It happened a few short days before his 80th birthday June 1, a day after he won his first and only Na Hoku Hanohano Award — Hawaii’s answer to the Grammys — for the first and only album he worked tirelessly on before the cancer reached his lungs. Four Na Hokus for a lifetime, including best jazz album.
The two of them together onstage, holding court to celebrity, a witness to the changing of the guard, and then, the slow death of their first love, jazz…
I’d like to think of them together up in heaven, jamming with their musical heroes. I’d like to think of their spirits down here infusing us with the beauty, the majesty, the grace only music provides.
Once in a while, Jimmy Borges will pop into my head, and I’ll wonder what he’d think of this or that. I’ll hear him encourage me to keep writing about the working jazz musician (nobody cares about), that it matters, that I’m damned good, “so fucking honest,” too good to throw in the towel so easily. I’ll feel him beaming down at me from wherever he is now, when I’ve overcome major self-doubt in a milestone or even something as small as going to a Trader Joe’s for last-minute Christmas snacks — braving the mindless cruelty of one or two other customers.
His wife Vicki told me recently that if you think of someone who’s passed, he’s really there in spirit.
I miss you, Jimmy. We all do.